Sometimes having children can be like watching a time-lapse video. It takes my breath away how quickly phases seem to have passed in retrospect, despite feeling like a hundred years when you're in the thick of them: explosive nappies, potty training, sleep! Please, please, fricking sleep. How can this day NOT BE OVER YET? In the relentless days of riding the parenting rapids, life can feel like a tumble dryer of wishing time away... and then mourning its loss once it's gone and you didn't have the head space to say goodbye.
We packed away our cot this week. It has served us well for the past 5 and a bit years. Often as a handy receptacle for washing, random toys, general bedroom debris... but occasionally performing its rightful duty by housing a small person overnight (for a bit of time at the beginning of the night). But now, we have moved to bunk beds. The cot is officially redundant in our household.
These are the moments where you need to find the time to pause and reflect, to absorb the stage you've passed through, as the train is chugging out of the station. For example... learning to talk. You plough through the hair-pulling often delightfully comic days of thwarted communication, the tantrums (on both sides) when you misunderstand the helium-voiced jibber jabber. You celebrate when stealthily the inscrutable turns to actual words - even more so when hearty exclamations such as "big dick!" can be translated with relief as "Peppa Pig stickers". The triumphant feeling when the earnest demand for "Dom Shen!" is finally understood as "Thomas and Friends". And then seamlessly, imperceptible like the tide turning, one day you've lost toddler speak forever. You may say "Dom Shen" in camaraderie with your child, only for them to say "it's THOMAS, mummy!" in the tone of an eye-rolling teenager, at four.
I'm currently (literally - he is draped across my chest right now) still breastfeeding my two-year old. I didn't start out consciously planning to breastfeed for so long. A tumultuous and short breastfeeding journey first time round meant that I hadn't really thought about playing the long game this time. Boob is my second's very favourite thing in the world. There are moments where I am desperate to have my body back, to have some personal space and not be groped constantly when I'm with him. To be able to wear nice clothes and not consider whether there is "access". To maybe lose the extra padding I have gathered around my middle due to breastfeeding exhaustion and sugar craving.
But simultaneously, I'm clinging on to his love of it and his need for closeness to my bosom, because I know once I let it go then...well, it's gone. It's easy to become marooned in a habit of mourning and lost goodbyes, without properly greeting and welcoming new phases in life.
I was listening to a programme on BBC Radio 4 recently discussing dealing with change, and how transition times in adult lives can lend themselves to sorrow and depression...that what we feel in these episodes is a sense of lost control of our lives.
This almost regresses us back emotionally to the frustration and desperation felt when we were babies/toddlers, experiencing no autonomy in terms of how anything in our lives is run, not being able to fully articulate how it's making you feel, as if in a straightjacket (it IS so unfair how mummy doesn't let us eat chocolate for breakfast/jump off the top bunk/shave the dog!). Acknowledging these times passing is important: embracing how it makes us feel, even if those emotions are settling along a spectrum of happy-sad.
My eldest started school last year and before I could fully register it he has shed his toddler cocoon and is now a boy... up, up and away. I gaze at my two-year old and I'm aware of pre-empting a latent sense of sorrow as he moves beyond his toddlerdom, anticipating these baby years slipping into that timeless pool of memory, clutching at them softly before they're plucked away. That beautiful moment where a blossom is at its most perfect, just before it falls from the tree. That's what these memories are.
I've just turned the corner into my 40s (wtf?). I've been feeling a sense that there are now things that are lost to me as opportunities... clearly I won't be a pop star now... maybe I really won't ever learn how to blow dry my hair properly... Realising that, even though I don't want any more children, I'm entering a stage in my life where that decision will not biologically be mine to start with.
It's easy to get stuck on a track of eternal postponement: I'll feel better when I've lost weight/got properly fit/sorted myself out professionally, when I'm living in my "forever home", when I'm not so tired, when I have more money to have more time to have more patience... eternally suspended in stasis, in looking back or looking forward.
Often we look at the past and the future as separate countries to the one we're living in. But actually it's the same country. Same postcode. Here and now. It's not a long kiss goodbye to each stage in life, it's a new hello.